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Making formic acid by artificial photosynthesis

By Tetsuo Satoh |

For the first time, an organic compound has been synthesized from water, carbon dioxide and sunlight — without any other external energy or reagents. The achievement, which was demonstrated by researchers at Toyota Central Research and Development Laboratories, Inc. (Toyota CRDL; Aichi Prefecture, Japan; www. tytlabs.co.jp), a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp., is said to be a major step toward artificial photosynthesis. Toyota CRDL’s method consists of an electrochemical cell with two electrodes immersed in water and separated by a proton exchange membrane. CO2 is bubbled through the water. At one electrode coated with a TiO2 photocatalyst, water is oxidized by sunlight into O2, a proton (H+) and an electron (e–). Both charged products are transferred to the other electrode — H+ through the membrane, and e– via an external conductor — where they are used for the reduction of CO2 into formate ions (HCOO–). The CO2 reduction takes place over a p-type, InP/Ru complex polymer hybrid photocatalyst. No external voltage is required. A selectivity of more than 70% for HCOO– production was achieved, and the solar-to-chemical energy conversion was 0.03–0.04% — about one fifth that of…
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